[applause] >> thanks for bearing with my cold. >> for more information visit the website, julia scheeres.com. >> visit booktv.org to watch any of the programs you see here online. type the author of octet of the search bar on the upper left side of the page and click search. you can also share anything you see on booktv.org easily by clicking share on the upper left side of the page and selecting the format. booktv streams live online for 48 hours every weekend with top nonfiction books and authors. booktv.org. >> and now, charles mann, author of 1493 revisits the americas
two-year after christopher columbus' arrival. the author reports on european voyages that followed the transportation of flora and fauna from americas to other parts of the road from which became known as the columbus exchange. this is a little over an hour. >> charles mann will tell you how his brilliant new book, trained to: uncovering the new world columbus created actually originated with a question about heirloom tomato plant developed in 18th century ukraine, which he encountered any school greenhouse. i'm going to actually let him tell you that story himself. read his story in his book will make you think in any way about about so many things about food, diseases, people, trade in our offense for centuries ago set a time before events were today as the global network has become the subject of a serious intellectual battle. i don't think anyone here would disagree with that.
charles mann is a great interdisciplinary thinker, scholar questionnaire. he synthesizes the latest research by colleges, urologists and historians to uncover the german today's fiercest local dispute, all the things we are roiling and talking about nec in the op-ed pages from immigration to trade policy to culture wars. and he always finds a great way to tell the story. and in his new book, you'll find him and his sordid and engaging guide from page one to page 410. you may already have read charles mann's others sweeping portrait of american history: the mind rocking 1491, new revelations of the americas before columbus which won the national academies communication award for best book of the year. or you may have read them in half a dozen magazines like the atlantic, science, wired or even seen the two episodes he wrote of law and order.
in a conversation with charles mansion i come with a great interdisciplinary thinker and writer, richard rodriguez. richard is the author of an autobiographical trilogy that it emits respectably class ethnicity and race in america. richard's books or was close at hand on my bookshelves. i can keep them right above my desk. we've missed them here last year some are very lucky to coax him down from san francisco at work finishing a book on the ecology of monotheism, influence of the desert for the experience of god. i'm so pleased and honored to present these two writers in conversation with each other. please join me in welcoming charles c. mann and richard rodriguez to the los angeles public library. thank you. [applause] [cheers and applause] >> first of all, let me just say how pleased i am to be here
interviewing charros. i feel a little bit like a child interviewing a giant. so if i seem a little starstruck, forgive me. i was reading your book over several days. my partner, jim and i tended to a live reading them in separate rooms. and if i'm making a lot of noise, laughter, i set about john at the table, he'll ask, what are you reading? and on occasion come to the occasion this book, "1493", i would come into his room and you say what are you reading? i seem reading this book about the tomato. this is the most extraordinary book about a tomato, how it made its way from south america to mexico and ended up on a plate of pasta in italy. and then i'd go back to my room.
tim is of the impressionistic they grow older, completely not. but the book was mad and it was not not. a few hours later he said what are you reading now? the solana will? i'm reading a book about malaria, but the relationship of malaria to slavery. i never read this before. i've never heard such an idea. he's reading a book by an english novelists. the next day, jim asks, are you going to read a book about malaria? i'm not into a book about malaria at all. i'm reading about enola, about chinatown and manila. there is chinatown a 17th century in the mallet, we peaked stirfry chicken. and jim says poe.
and then as i finish this book, this remarkable book, what is this about finally? is said to think i will take always with me in the end is the story about an african in florida, and make it whom the indians eat at fuse or maybe truly see as a spiritual and blessed man in they give him gifts appropriate to the station. i've never heard of him before. to my surprise, reading this book, charles, this book is about five centuries, not one year. 1493 seems a bit of a misnomer. tell us a little about the ambition of this book and what you refer to as the columbian
exchange. >> the ambition of the book is really to find out why the tomato is growing in my garden. that sort of disturbed. i mean, basically if you're a journalist, which i am, you to print the story. what were the editor calls you up and says what she do something about x or y, which i'm often happy to do. but my favorite kinds of things that when i noticed something they wait a minute. so is it to new york city for a long time and then moved out to the country because he wanted something a little more fast-paced. the thing about new york is you get on the subway in for an hour if you're lucky, absolutely nothing happened. whereas in this little tommy menu pass-through for two-minute and everything is there and gone. so it's sort of zippy in that way. and so, my son -- we had some
local college students we saw in her small town paper had grown 100 varieties of tomatoes. i like tomatoes a lot. i thought let's go to see it. this is in the early 90s. at never heard of heirloom tomatoes about that stock the most view of her of. this is great. so is sorted tornado on transmitter, this catalog where you can get great tomato seeds. in thinking, these tomatoes are from around here at all. they're a japanese or ukrainian. i just had this picture of all of these tomato nerds, like i kind of wanted to be all over the world. you know, greeting and tasting their tomatoes. i thought how weird this is that this could have happened, that they had this idea this came from mexico. they mysteriously came to mexico. >> they were toxic. so why did they bring this -- but these historical mystery?
where did this, somehow my elementary school neglect did you tell me. and i looked at my garden in absolutely everything i grew -- other than doing them, wasn't from around there. and i realized to my garden, whichever sorted hovering around in and felt homey and with this exotic cosmopolitan modern globalized object. it was like a completely weird artificial construct, which was sort of strange to think a period and i thought, how did that happen? and largely -- >> it would've been come to fire you, it would've been satisfactory to write a book on tomato. tomatoes i loved. but this is only one chapter of this book about earthworms, about malaria. there is something in this book. it's almost as though you credit
the events of 1492 with opening the door and the imagination of the world. and the five centuries after. i think the book ends in the 1990s. the five centuries to you straight through engage questions of politics, slavery, colonialism, botany, biology, chemistry, history. at what point do you stop? found a six-pack to tiger woods to be his call for calls himself a cow in asia and is the end of the columbian exchange. what is the columbian exchange in your imagination? how do you keep it all from falling off the page of the book? >> actually spent this on another starting point for the book. my family is from the pacific northwest, even though i live in
massachusetts now. whatever creed treats those kids was to go to portland. this unbelievable bookstore is still there. it's an amazing place. and so come as a young adult i still like to go there when i possibly could. and my wife was a little less enthusiastic about this because i were to march at this huge box of books would have to schlep around. unassertive sent with an allowance. so i found this book titled ecological imperialism, which i thought, the silly to retake could never imagine jammed together. so i picked it up and they have these awfully rattly chairs you can fit in for 10 minutes maximin there. i sat for two hours. i thought this is amazing. what he was talking about was the fact that the columbian
exchange, why this isn't billeted to the aggression. the idea is when: this came, what he was doing was re-creating the original -- to an 50 million years ago there's a single giant comment called pangaea. geological forces broke up and releases different plants and animals overhearing over there. and columbus re-creates pangaea. that's why if portend. there is this ecological compulsion that happens. the world meeting itself. and this is why you should observe columbus day. i mean, it's a big deal of human history. as opposed to celebrate. it is an enormous marker at the beginning of the modern world. >> i was choose to celebrate because as someone who is part indian -- it's my birthday. >> it's the birthday for everyone. here again. i am descended from -- largely
from the scottish people and the strange part of the world, married to a japanese woman. it couldn't happen with all of columbus. >> well, i'm going to say this publicly since they've been waiting to say since i read your first book, 1491, which for me was so redemptive in america. i've never been able to accommodate my spanish have to make indian half. i could identify my spanish chef because the spanish have spoke spanish, was roman catholic and so forth. but what was my indian house of david speak the language? what you have given me in 1491 is what the european discovered here was in fact that there is something here, that there were aqueducts, there were dance, a
civilization here. and i was honestly a bowsprit traded to be come a virgin land filled with people who were merely passive. >> everywhere in the wilderness because after all their 15,000 years, the implications of these people lived here for thousands and thousands of years and didn't do anything. the most boring people on earth. it just doesn't fit. people are interesting. these are really alerts in this picture. and of course the answer you think about this they say that can't possibly be the case that people sat there and what the sierra club tourist. look at the trees, you know, look at the beach. i mean, that's what people do. and so, they build stuff. >> where did that idea come? i can think of any number of writers who speak of america, the united states, of having virgin lands. where does that idea come? the european came on a place that is essentially empty? >> it's really complicated
question. >> is that the arrogance of discovery? >> is part that anything. ethnocentrism of course as one has to -- every group thinks it's important and the people it's pushing aside her circuit not so important. >> tapir attends required the assistance of the indians to survive. it doesn't mean people who aren't -- all the european ute indians to survive. that doesn't mean they can't think airport anyways because it's sort of embarrassing. ..
>> cleared areas throughout the americas, where there's lots and lots of people living and lots of lots and farms, fill in with trees. so at a time -- my ancestors came in the early 19th century there's a forest and we think the wood has always been like we saw the first time and that's part of it. and it's hard to credit when you're in the 19th century, coming here and seeing the forest that was once completely different. >> one of the things about
rivera, was quite mad, and the mural makes the cities -- splendid murals of the dread conquistadors, and usually with syphilis, and while he may have raped the indian, she brought him disease. what i took from your first book and what i take from this book, too, is that the encounter between two human beings is going to change both of them and that seems to be so profound that we don't even recognize the importance of that today. we really do imagine that, for example, that we can -- this is not a political statement -- we can trek through iraq or afghanistan and we will change them but we will not be changed. in some ways this is the oldest expectation of the traveler, they can look at the world and that the world will not in some way look back at them in such a way they will be forever changed.
>> i think this is actually maybe particularly for our culture, we have this, because one of the oddities of historiography, if you read mexican histories or histories in brazil or peru of the encounter, they create this culture that is a joint creation, and here the assumption is that they had no impact at all. which, if you live in new york is a did for also while, how long did it take those korean immigrants in queens to start doing hip-hop moves. howhow long did it take black candidate start doing kung fu. so people learn from each other incredibly quickly. and the story in north america, this encounty wasn't two ways, but it seems puzzling to me. this isn't how people really are. >> can i say that there is something in this book that is
some pool of male energy. i think -- >> thank you, i think. >> i didn't want to put it too near my bed at night. testosterone in this book, it's filled with these -- this male energy in the world, just hacking its way through the forest. brave. >> brave and exotic. >> yes. everything in the stories you tell. i was in alaska a few weeks ago and was asking a group of young men -- in the colleges now days it's the young girls who are traveling, not the boys. two out of three college students abroad are girls.
barack obama went from kansas to hawaii and indonesia, and the boys are upstairs playing video games. i said to these boys, what do you want from the video games? and they said, it's the only place where they can feel mythic. and i think to myself, you know, these men that you are describing, aring mic. they were -- they must have been aware of their importance, of their self-importance, that way. don't you think? >> that's interesting. i think it's true. one of the extraordinary things that happened after cortez is suddenly all these spaniards think, wo, i can do this. i can go out randomly and find gold, and they are able -- it's a little like a boom. netscape and everybody is going to fund idiotic ideas and random spaniards can say, give me a
boat, and they fly out in all directions. >> one critic praised your book by calling it -- referring to your prose as being -- there's something in the prose that matches the audacity of the explorers you were describing insofar as there is some attempt to yoke the continents continent simply across the atlantic but across the pacific ocean. do you admire this habit in the male which you describe? >> i hadn't thought about it. i guess this is part of what people do, of all cultures. i describe how the chinese are pushing out west and body slamming into asian minorities. they're still doing this today. >> yes. >> and so there's -- often when you read histories there's a lot of hand-wringing, and that's -- just isn't surprising that people do this. one of the most frightening comments that i -- in the last
book i quote anthropologists who say -- fran who say, if you read the mexican accounts, the accounts of the people of that cortez conquered, in the most brutal way possible, they of course don't want to be conquered. they bewail what happened but never blame the spaniards. there's some truth to that. if you want to stop people doing this, this is not to be assigned to one group or another. this is what people do. >> yes. >> and so we have to -- you can't just get too worked up about it. and there is -- these stories are extraordinary. >> you come from -- i think your grandmother's great-uncle ends up in brazil -- >> a complete lunatic.
>> might be a character in a warner herzog movie, building a railroad. >> the railroad to nowhere. with. >> with some admiration you regard this memory. >> yes. he wanted to encounter the world but he was at the same time obtuse and horrible. you can't let -- you have to see the person whole. these people are admirable in some ways, and i guess you have to think of them as one would want to be jumped ones self. my union live isn't a perfect record of virtue. but i hope people would see me in the round and cut me a little slack. >> yeah. in fact, there are relatively few women in this book. >> unfortunately that's the way it is. >> let me just ask -- >> named women. women are obviously -- >> named women. and the ones we expect, we find.
pocohantis. my great-great-great-grandmother in mexico. >> really? >> well, she had to be. >> something i was extremely proud of in the book, i do a representation of the family trees. a cortez mistress, and he had a complicated family tree and he was related to pisaro and the both married into the noblity of the respect testify places they countered, and one of the things the spaniards would do, they couldn't rule by force of arms so they would marry into the native noblity, and thus essentially hijack the top and then these empires -- >> except as you remark, their son, martin, goes back to spain and becomes a member of the court. >> right.
>> so he in a sense hijacks them, too. >> people manipulate their status. >> that's right. what do you make of these stories of these women in the new world, pike pocohantas,, who are able linguistically to talk to two societies and have an identity you don't necessarily associate with the males of their tribe. >> this is about people trying to make the way in the world and it's a world to them that is in cataclysmic change, and there's a single constant in it, no matter what societies you go to the women or second-class citizens. it varies, their degree and the way, but they're not usually prominent people in the society. not certainly as men. so they are simply making their way, and occasion you get to hear from a few of them.
they pop up momentarily in the archives. but men do this, too. men try to make their way, and you do have these people, like my uncle, sort of loonie who managed to go out and the bulk of us trying to do what they can, and one of the things that is exciting for the -- some spanish latin america is they have all these special castes, and you talk about this in your own book. i tried to tell -- i love that stuff the way that people would sort of say, oh, wait a minute, african slaves here. africans don't have to pay taxes. i'm a small businessman. i'm african, and they would claim the status. or indians get to do certain kinds of trade. i'd like too do that. so i'm an indian. then some spanish family, who they're related to, will not
have the proper heir in the estate if they don't have an heir, and they say, no, no, you're spaniard now. so these incredibly fluid social categories. and people like a mayawoman -- she wasn't maya. she was actually from somewhere else originally and this is becoming -- spanish was her third identity. >> there wasn't essay by joan didion where she talked about her difficulty flying from new york to california, how long the six are hour flight took, and then she remembered her ancestors trekked across the plains and wonders whether she
has the capacity to -- for that kind of physical bravery. but i would even argue for that kind of -- that flexibility of self-hood. most of us are wedded to concepts of self that are really rather static rather than fluid as you're suggesting. >> we're not in those situations. who knows what would have happened, how we would be if be were in a world that was changing as rapidly as the world right after columbus. these are people, especially for native people, they're entire village would have vanished overnight from disease. these strange, pasty faced foreigners would have come in. and then the bring in african slaves and then there's a chinatown there, and then -- >> might seem rational for you to say, i think i'm just not going to be who i thought i was. >> the most astonishing part of this book for me, since i don't like tomatoes as much as you do,
is the business of the african. i have -- i think in the mid-1980s, i began to hear from the u.s. census bureau the prediction that african-americans were about to be replaced -- this is the sentence they used -- replaced by hispanics as the conditional tri's largest minority. so many things offensive about that prediction. one is that the african-american would be replaced. but the notion that hispanics are separatable from africa when africas are integral to the history of the americas and you have rescued this history is astonishing to me. did it surprise you to come upon this history? >> you sort of know there's a slave trade. >> we know the slave trade. but the stories you're telling is not only the flexibility of
self but also the rebellion and the ability of slaves to survive as nonslaves. >> right. that was a -- we all know that there was slavery and that was bad. i went to a terrible public school. but managed to convey this to me. [laughter] >> but then again, what i learned was that slaves were passive victims and they were dragged here and they could do nothing, and then these abolitionists, who were noble types. >> who freed them. >> who freed them. again, if you think about it, these people had no ability to do anything for themselves. people do stuff for themselves. if you think about it, just doesn't make any sense. and in fact, africans are involved in all parts of the slave trade in all kinds of roles, and that slavery leaked live asive.
and many, many people left. and it makes sense if you realize that a large number, a large fraction of the africans were soldiers. their nations were at war with each other and they were sell the p.o.w.s. and they're military types and escaped, especially in areas where they're kind of -- landscape was familiar to them. you're from the tropical part of africa and your sent to brazil, this is a landscape you understand in the way the portuguese don't. and it's possible to establish independent communities that exist for hundreds of year. much more difficult here because in the east coast you have winter, which is a much more potent way of keeping you in. >> charles, you're a historian. you must answer this question
for me, even if it's not a good answer. >> then you have given me life. >> how is it we can lose hold of such a vast history? is this a wilful amnesia on the part of societies? how can we stand it when we see these charts with american demographic yard whites are here and hispanics are here as the they're separate items. how can we forget so much about the history of the americas. >> i thought about that. i'm glad you allowed me to give a bad answer. it's a strange thing. you sort of know there are a lot of slaves that came over to the americas, but it's a shocking thing to realize that they outnumbered europeans in terms of the number of people who came over, three or four to one, but until 1840, and all this stuff that you see from the colonial period was built by africans. wonderful buildings, african hands build them.
colonial roads, canals, africas. and the majority of the populations here were africa and indians and the europeans were important with minor rules, purely in demographic terms, and i think a big part of -- this is just a guess -- that when there's a great wave of european immigration started by the irish in 1840s and then the 1880s 1890s and a pulse of europeans that come over and they're a significant presence, and they look around on these boats and who do they see? people like themselves and they land and they go into communities and in the communities, they're people like themselves, and you get this idea that this must be what is there. >> it's almost -- our gramar traps us after a while, these
word are not helpful. they separate us from our own reality. >> right. reality is this place is a big jungle and has been for a long time. >> in latin america, if i say, soy -- indoo issue it's unseasonable. the whole language of blackness and indianness comes inadmissible in a polite way. >> even though at the same time they know that you have this problem of recognition in textbooks in places like mexico where this hybrid culture was somehow -- the use of it seemed was so pain inflame your book. i had to put it down, where you say that some -- the whitest dipper party you ever went to in mexico city, and i said, we don't really have -- i know exactly what you're talking about, because people don't say that to me but i hear the most
astonishing comments. >> the dinner party in mexico city, an executive, when a group of mexicans of that class gets together, they talk about france, and he was talking to me about a place in france and i was listening to this, and who are you, he said? and i said i'm a writer and i'm here for a conference. he said in mexico, we don't have journalists who look like you, he said. only mexico would say that to one of her children. it's true. this book -- it's just not sufficient to the reality that you're describing here. speaking of -- i think the african sections of this book are just -- that's what i will remember most from the book. but the indian -- there are
these legends -- you don't repeat it and i'm not sure it's true now. the indian in 1492, seeing columbus on the horizon, these ships, they come to the edge of the water to wait for columbus. i've always thought in the indian there is this absorbancey in the presence of a foreign, almost asian in that way, and that it meets the aggression of the european activist with this capacity to take the european in. the most interesting character in literature, indian character, is calaban, who wants to swallow this book. and wants to devour charles mann. there's that sense of, i come to los angeles and i look around, and everyone says, this is the greatest hispanic city in america, and i think to myself, is that true or are we in the
great indian city? and do we not have a word for that? how do you see in light of what you have written, how do you see a city of los angeles? >> let me go back to the time of -- communities isn't so much absorption. they come and see this strange object, these ships, and then these tired, dirty, people come onshore. >> unprecedented people. >> unprecedented people who smell bad. and everything is ethnocentric, right? they're thinking, ooh, and the spaniards, oblivious to how they smelled, look around and see these people dressed funny and the think, ooh. and that's the human part. and they say, these guys have interesting stuff. i'll hold my nose and i'll see if i can acquire some of this
stuff. >> yes. >> it's a big deal, and it's only a few of them. only a few of them. so give them some bad lamb, let them say over this and then when we have enough axes we'll drive them out and kill them. what they consistently make the mistake is how many of those smelly people are over there and how willing they are to keep coming over, and that's what happened at jamestown. >> and yet, exists within strangers. >> people get to know each other and then they see each other as human beings. >> and curiosity. you look different. you look different from me. can i touch your hair? >> right, and they're always reporting that. the indians -- you see this beards and they want to touch them. sort 0 repelled and fascinated. >> this notion that the indians are prehistoric or they belong in a reservation rather than in los angeles, that the person
from los angeles is therefore hispanic, a child of spain. are we going to teach a generation of children to think of their indian self as the actor or are we caught in this impossible history. >> if you look at the historical records and you just read what is there, the may a, for example, zillions of mayaens. i don't know how many million. they were never conquered. i'll give you an example. in researching this book i went to this town, and i went to see this incredibly beautiful place, and my son and i are driving back on this road to san cristobal, a terrible road and speed bumps everywhere. and with what are completely not announced and you have to go 20-miles-an-hour because you're
afraid to hit them. and something out of nowhere comes in. a guy with a gun. and he looks and says, who are you? said, look at us. a look of terrible disgust on his face. los americanos. >> that complains it. >> and he's going, no, no, we want some mexicans. and i'm in mexico. right? so they don't see it that way. >> i have to ask you about china because there's china in this book and there's manila. and the china that you -- i was reading in the wall street journal a book review that connect by saying two things americans are afraid of. china, and their children. [laughter] >> but this -- is the china you portray in the 17th and 1st 1st century seems more like today's china than not.
it is -- these are not people who are held by their own wall. these are people who are trespassing into the world, and who are engaged in the commerce in the world in the most astonishing way. do you hate china as a continuous intervention within this columbian experiment? >> yeah. i mean, it's important to realize that the big event -- the other event after the diseases that should be taught in schools-disthat the most important event from the european point of view and the world point of view, is in 1545 the spaniards discover a huge mountain of silver in bolivia, and this amazing town that is the biggest town in the americas. >> one of the biggest towns in the world. >> this extraordinary crazy boomtown, which i had a lot of
fun reading about. at it like dodge city and all these different crazy people in a much larger scale expect lasts for a couple hundred years, and just incredible amount of silver comes out of the mines, mined by countless indian and african slaves. river of silver pours out and goes across the world, and an extremely large fraction of it and scholars argue about how much it is, halving two-thirds, -- ends up in china, and there's this connection around the world now where american silver, mined by africas, taken by europeans to china in return for civic and porcelain that is then shipped across mexico to spain, and the moneys come back and taken to buy africans. there's this pulse that is created by this wash of silver, and -- >> i'm going to ask you on that sentence, the hardest question and the last question and that
is, this reunion of the world, the world meeting itself after the fracture of 12 million years ago, this encounter -- we see friends paying $500 for the dna to be examined. what we really want to final what we don't know about the line. what our grandmothers didn't tell us. >> there's a lot of us who are -- >> yes. a lot of family secrets. do you feel -- this story comes -- you are such a world story-teller, and this book is up ending but there's a great deal of cal lambty in this book. death and disease. do you feel -- the question, i guess, is not, would we be better not have met each other, which is impossible. but are you optimistic about this thing that's going to continue? this 1493 is not over. it continues.
and when i say tiger woods, i meant that jokingly, but in some way we're playing out the dramas of 1493 in this city, and the concerns about immigration. >> the whole country. >> are you optimistic? >> i think in -- the way i hear your question is the pains of this kind of calamitous mixing that's been going on for 500 years outweighed by the gains. >> that's right. or do we as human beings somehow manage to find some benefit in this calamity? >> i guess the -- when i think about this and wrestle with it, is that -- the problem is the pains and the gains. the goods and the bads, are incommensurate. the potato comes to europe. the sweet potato comes to
champion. millions upon millions of people are kept from premature death. it's an extraordinary boon to humankind, that china is no wronger racked by famine, europe is no longer rack eddie famine. children are no longer dyingful but that same tidele wave of globalization is sweeping away languages and cultures at this extraordinary rate, and you're part of the world and in your silicon valley, and you say, are we losing a language every ten days, or whatever the guess is? so that there's this huge human cost to this. >> do you fight it? >> you fight it? do you become -- >> worldwide? >> the human response, does one try to fight this global energy or has the door now been opened and can't close? >> i don't think the door can close but you can certainly, on
a human level, mitigate this. i think people-torn. they want to embrace the world. you want to -- my kids are tremendous fans of japanese an may, anime, and they have this club in massachusetts, and so that's a fine thing. they're exposed to this. but at the same time there's all kind of other reasons why they want to kind of -- my wife and i want to cling to our little new englandy -- we're torn in this way and that's essential -- >> a condition. >> that's home. >> i'm going to ask you to read something from your book because i want the audience to have a sense of the text tour of your prose. it's one of the most delightful things about his prose, is that a man this smart does not
want -- one, he can write, but he can tell wonderful stories, and it's -- and the discovery of the book, that is, of this story about discovery and exploration, becomes your story, too, and that many times in the course of these chapters, you are in china or you are in bolivia. you're discovering things and asking questions of people and it's really quite a wonderful -- i don't want to say parody, but an imitation of the best of the traveler's tale. could i ask you to read something -- maybe your grandmother's uncle. >> okay. the true discovery. reading about amazon, in the 19th century, and there's a human rubber boomy all kinds of
people went out into the amazon, often with huge numbers of enslaved indians, and took rubber from the rubber trees, and rubber is a central part of the industrial revolution you. can't have engines without beltt gaskets and o-rings and people keep referring to this book by this guy, neville b. craig, which is in my living room, the picture of an anises or of mine neville craig, and i think, what are the odds it is this guy, and i find out, it is. played a part in this story that i had. and so i had this sort of kick to the -- and started researching about the -- a lot of stuff came from a family of lunatics and here's another
prime example. in my living room hang as portrait of my grandmother's uncle or great-great uncle. both named named neville craig mitchell grandfather found the painting in a thrift shop and thought the subject was the older craig, the fouledder of the daily newspaper in pittsburgh. but the late 1923478 century style of the picture suggesting it wait the you canner craig. he intended to make his fortune in rubber. craig did not plan to work directly with rubber. instead he intended to help built a railroad to transport it. the primary source of rubber was latex from a tree. native of the amazon base sip, the tree is most abundant on the border lan with bow liva. after shipping the latex to inning land would involve dispatching ships around the stormy southern i.t. of south america, a trip of almost 12,000-miles. the spire route was so difficult
that the secretary of the royal geographical society determined it would be four times faster to ship to the mamson and it then to the atlantic. the problem was that water falls and rammeds blocked part of the river. east of it was the white amazon and then the atlantic. the downsteam was the brazil yap hamlet. my ancestor went to santo antonio. he was a fine student who won two university prizes and was hired before graduation. five years later he joined a philadelphia railway construction firm which obtained the contract to built the railroad. the collins brothers seemed to believe their considerable experience with railroad count
their entire lack of experience with the amazon. as he later recounted in a memoir, winter plagued the journey. the storms wrecked the second and last much less seaworthy shape. more than # other people drowned. company officials had trouble replacing the men. philadelphians lost the desire. and new recruits were found from, quote, the slums of the cities. people expecting in shape, the soundness of darwin's their. most were immigrants in southern italy. many pushed from their homes bought or their beliefs. antiit it anti-italians was
prevalent. apparently it did not occur the anarchists would discover the arrangement and find it up acceptable. craig steamedded up the river. he learned of the fate of the men on the second ship only when the italians arrived. at the same time the italians found out they were being paid less than anybody else. went days they went on strike. the engineers, craig among them, constructed the cage and forced the strikers into it in gunpoint. i waited in vain for any recognition from craig that imprisoning the work force could have annealingtive impact on the construction schedule. ultimately the strikers went to work, sullenly hacking at the forest. a few weeks later, quote, 75 or more took off for bolivia. none made it because, quote, they served as food for the
indians. a nearby native group kept colonist at bay. the expedition was run out of food. my ancestor's party was starving in the midst of plenty. it was the go ground for peanuts and chili pepper and also the domestic site of the worldwide staple, manioc. my an zester nearly died of food in one of the world's agricultural heartlands. [applause] >> i remember talking to bill clinton and he told me he was 1/20th american indian.
wouldn't it be wonderful if he could come upon that indian in the jungle who sounds like hem and carries on the way he does. but to come upon your great, great, great uncle in the brazilian jungle is part of the american story, seems to me, that we are wedded to this history, and the shock is that we have forgotten so much of it, and that so much of it has been withheld from our families. >> it's so interesting what we have done. unbelievably interesting. when you think about what we are actually told, no matter history seems boring. >> let's me open this up to questions from the audience. i've had too much of you for too long. >> that can be taken several weighed, couldn't it. >> my name is mario and i have a question. why isn't this history taught in our schools?
>> do you now how textbooks are produced? the awaits been explained to me -- i'm not a textbook writer, but if you're a textbook company you want to produce a text that will be sold and read throughout the united states because they're expensive things to produce and you have to recoup your costs by having lots and lots of students read them. a number of states have special agencies that have to approve the text books, so it's been explained to me, and the way one publisher put it to me from random house, is that -- the three most important states are new york, texas, and california. and the way he explained it to me if you can't get a textbook in new york, texas, and california, you can't -- you basically -- it's worthless. the problem is the new york board is superliberal, the texas board is superconservative, and the california board is-under
super crazy. and i don't actually have any personal experience with this. i'm just recounting it. once they kind of thread the needle, they're really reluctant to change it because if they change the textbooks too much to do. recent knowledge, then they have to go back through this, and almost all this will offend somebody. >> there's something else, too. and you're being too generous. we're like hispanic history month or something like that. and you would think that some of this africa story would be part of our history, and you know, i've always said if you want to do a real hispanic history, you should have the irish coming here because the irish -- a story that is almost unknown in america, even to the american irish -- of the defection of american irish immigrants to the mexican side in the mexican-american war.
an extraordinary story, well known in mexico but no where are where told -- we almost can't bear a history that starts overlapping. what is the irishman doing in this story about mexico. >> hispanic history month. so everything about all of this stuff -- 30 days and doesn't have anything to do with the other. black history month. right. and i guess the other ten months are for europeans. >> yeah. i wish. i wish we could -- but in fact the other t months are caccuous. >> has writing this book ruin edgarening for you? can you still go out and garden or do you see the world differently? >> i still like to garden. it's helpful i'm not a very good gardener.
i have these friend who are really good gardeners and they sort of sneer at my -- but they're not a writer so i'm not expected to be very good at very much. the effort, no, because -- the more you know about something, for me, the more you appreciate it. i look at these spinely tomatoes i have because i forgot to water and i marvel at the journey they made to me and win i do my incompetent seed saving and hoping they grow the next year, you realize your part of this crazy tradition, and when i take thome friends in seattle and give them to them for their gardens you realize what a part of a huge tradition you are, and also in the larger -- it's i think easier to feel a little relaxed about what is going on in the world when you say, wait a minute, this is something that has been going on for a long
time. doesn't mean it's not superserious or superimportant but it's not this sudden onslaught that its happening to us right now. it's part of a long process that maybe we can intervene in, in a way and change it for a common good. at least that's how i feel. of course i might be totally delusional. >> hi. do you know what columbus actually did to the spanish monarchy because there is very few statue in spain, and not honored as it is honored in the rest of the world. >> he is kind of a equivocal figure. he didn't, after all, set out to discover -- didn't set out to do what he did. he never really copd to --
copped the fact he landed in asian, and the spanish monarchy foolish gave him all these privileges they took away from him. so he died a very bitter guy who was reviled in that area. so it's not surprising to me that, after they had this ambivalent reaction to him. i think that feeling is also more general than. no if you go to santo domingo, there's this huge monument, 600 feet long and all these lights that shine up. it's so intense when they shine it, it supposedly blocks blacks out everything around it. and there's huge protests when it was put up. he is no so honored elsewhere in the world. a profoundly important guy but people feel unease about him.
>> there's a lot of movement these days with purists to get back and protect what they call the natural species in an area, or the native plants, for example, or native animals. do you think that's an exercise in futility? and even whether it's good or not good? >> well, i think it's -- sometimes there's invasive species that come in and are clearly bad in my area in new england, for example, dutch elm disease wiped out the elms. ex-ticks come -- exotics come in and cause damage. but the tomato is an exotic
plant in any area we are plowed of our asparagus, and -- it's an exotic species, and seems foolish to celebrate and consume and depend on these exotics and ought to frown on them are but at the same time we're building a house, and for fun we're trying to decorate our garden entirely with new england species. so he ones we aren't growing to eat. and having a lot of fun with it. going out and picking out these plant wes don't know very much about. and ordering them and so forth. so i see no harm in it as long as you don't take it too seriously. >> in 1491 in an airport book store and picked it up and read
it. it opened up my eyes to something i hadn't read before. i think you made the comment about why textbooks don't teach that. and i'm drawn the writing of other authors, jarrett diamond, and ken strams. there is a community of writers that you feel a part of, or other people you can mention who are writing about these things in ways that perhaps weren't revealed to us? >> i mean, my book -- i say there's a book called the columbian exchange, published 30 years ago, and they say -- it's a wonderful book, and i say in the acknowledge of my book is scribbled in the margins of his book. so those are two tremendous
books. if you're interested in the spanish conquests, there's a whole series of books by john hemming about the spanish and portuguese conquests that are fabulous. a long list of people who have written great stuff. if you're interested in ideas about how to think about these things, this guy rodriguez has written some excellent stuff. so, i try in the books to tip my hat to the stuff i think is really good, and there's a little essay at the back where i wave my stuff -- >> charles, it seems to me also that history often has examples of this exchange of identities, where you end up tending your tomatoes when some indian tribe in upstate new york is helping a casino and chopping the forest
down, that there is this wonderful wisdom that passes -- it's my turn to ransack the environment for a time. you can plant tomatoes. don't you think that sometimes that -- i think of the conversion of latin america to christianity by the spaniardded. it depleted europe in some way. you go to the churches of europe and they're empty. grew to the churches in latin america and the churches are fuel. the protestants are in brazil and central america. catholicism is full in mexico and the villages of south america. the mormon church's world population is spanish speaking. it may be that somehow i swallowed something of you and i have become the bird list of nature and you have become me.
do you think that's possible? >> sure. but at it important to remember that native societies, again, aren't the -- >> that's right. >> they certainly have the kind of agriculture they practice, certainly things we can learn from them and they're studying them. but -- when you talk about the casinos and so forth, it's important to remember this is actual federal policy. we passed the indian gaming act with the idea these guys were going to seat these up. so at it amazing to me -- i'm in a state that doesn't have this, so we have this sort of lofty perspective, right? and i think like, wow, the whole purpose of this was to give indians money, and here in california it becomes this huge issue, indians have money. and issues which is not taken as a success. >> that's right. but effective. >> i'm curious what you become that 1421, about the chinese.
their seven years before columbus. >> the book, you mean? >> yes. >> this is a book i should probably explain a little bit. there's an amazing spanish -- not spanish -- chinese explorer, a muslim eunuch, who read these seven huge armadas, maybe the largest ever, 300 some ships, from southeast china, and then across the indian ocean, and just sort of throw china's weight around and scared the pants off of everybody he visited with this enormous flotilla and they went all the way to the southern part of africa, and this book, which is by this retired submarine captain, says that the fleets split up and went to the united states and the caribbean and europe and went basically around
the world, and as a big part of it theyland in the americas before columbus. and i should say that the great bulk of -- actually never encountered an historian who believes this. so it's a distinctly minority viewpoint. and i actually very much enjoyed the book but i have a terrible weakness for nautical stuff, and he is retired captain, and i -- poop decks in it, and so i'm just a total sucker for this kind of stuff, and so i read it was great pleasure. at one point he says that the proof that they actually discharged a whole bunch of chinese in buzz sadr's bay, which is the -- between rhode island and massachusetts, there's this bay, and newport is near there. and this first european to go by there in the 1520s, landedded
a buzzard's bay, and the noticed the women there were much better looking then the other women, and he said, see, chinese? that's the explanation, and my wife, who is japanese, finds this completely convincing, and of course i better as well. but -- so all i can say is that i wish it were true because i think the world would be much more interesting if it were. but i don't think that he is really built up a case that really grabs me. but i would encourage you to read it. it would be fun to read. >> hi. i'm interested in this idea of encountering difference. there's so many instances of these encounters being fought with violence, and i'm wondering how we can encounter difference when even things like our
language, our world views, our frameworks don't allow us to understand or approach this difference in a place of humility and i wondered whether you could speak to that. >> i think people overall are getting better at this. the encounters that were between the spaniards and native people, or between the chinese and the native people in the philippines, or the west, are sort of come comically awful. and you just don't read about that kind of just absurd catastrophe which you see again and again and again throughout the world when persons encountered each other in the 15th or 16th century. one of the weird confident0s --
comfort0s researching this book -- for instance, ball -- balboa meets a group of people in panama and apparently there's a bun of guys there wearing skirt-like clothes. and there seems to be some sort of power struggle going on between -- in this group of native people, and they see these spaniards there and they say, those people, see them in skirt, they're all homosexuals. just -- so the spaniards set dogs on them and killed them all. i was reading this and thinking, don't thing this would happen now. people wouldn't be so naive and immediately think, oh, i will go kill these people. so, i guess i actually come to it from a different point of view. it was so bad then, we actually look a little better now.
cold comfort maybe. >> can i add, i think there's some duality of energies going on. i don't want to be a mexican nativist because mexico is interesting, but at the same time americans are repulsed by mexico and wanting walls and so forth. this appetite for mexican food is happening at the same time. marco polo would tell you before people speak to each other, they eat each other and there's some energy right now, even in the nation we're arranging on our plates, this thai finnish food that suggests we have a literal an tied to devour the world, and at the same time that over dinner we carry on with these announcements of arm -- armageddon. >> obviously there's a real problem of illegal immigration, and much of it having to do with
ideaotic idead of the mexican government to dispossess people and the u.s. functioning as a safety valve for them, and so clearly there's an issue there. but at the same time, when you look at the efforts taking place in latin america for centuries, one group of people trying to shut the door on another group of people, it's almost always a sign that the battle is over. >> it's quite that to end the evening fourth remind you -- sounds like something on pbs -- remind you we're living in this temple of a book and we forget that the weight in one's hand has a special power that the candle doesn't quite -- the
kindle doesn't capture. having spend some time in the middle east and watching jews and muslims and christians hold their holy book and kiss it, i've never been to a bar mitzvah where anybody walks in with a kindle. [laughter] >> remember that and respect this building for these books and this man for having produced this magnificent book. thank you very much. [applause] >> i'd like to add a special thanks to the library. both for bringing us here and for existing. this is a great place, and you should use it. [applause] ...